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Waterford - Every day, Waterford High School girls' tennis coach Bobby Schlink and his wife Jessica receive group chat messages on their phones from the Lancers' starting singles players.
"They talk to Jess about prom dresses," Schlink said with a laugh. "I stay out of that."
"We have great chemistry and everything," said Waterford junior Francisca Secor, who plays No. 4 singles. "It makes tennis playing a lot better than if we didn't like each other."
Waterford, which reached the semifinals of last year's Class M state tournament, have continued their success so far under Schlink, in his first season after taking over for longtime coach Larry Potter.
The Lancers are undefeated at 8-0 overall, recording their latest victory Friday afternoon, 5-2, against East Lyme.
It was Secor's 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 win over East Lyme's Lisa Gao, one of the only two varsity matches remaining on the courts, which clinched the closely-fought matchup with the Vikings, the defending Eastern Connecticut Conference Large Division champions.
Waterford, which competes in the ECC Medium, also has a divisional win this season over defending Class S champion Stonington, beating the Bears 4-3 on April 25. That snapped a 65-match winning streak for Stonington within the division, one that began in 2006.
"(Against Stonington) my match lasted two and a half hours. I just remember finishing my match and coming off the court to a big hug," junior Lauren Rahr, the No. 2 singles player, said. "I think we blend well together as a team."
"Plus the people we lost to (in the semis), we had beaten before. It was kind of a downer," No. 1 singles player Nisha Rajamohan said. "We wanted to prove something not only to ourselves but to our school. People don't watch tennis much."
East Lyme took the top two singles matches against the Lancers, with Sophia Shi, in her first season at No. 1, taking the first set in a tiebreaker before holding off Rajamohan 7-6 (5), 6-3. At No. 2, Melinda Li edged Rahr 6-4, 6-4.
Waterford's Lexi Moger topped Katherine Wu 6-0, 6-2 at No. 3. Meanwhile, the Lancers swept doubles play behind the teams of Katie Lewis and Jessica Hudson, Phoebe Lee and Alyssa Serafino and Alaina Moger and Tarlynn Tone-Pah-Hote.
Secor led the third set of her match 5-2 before Gao, with East Lyme needing to win its final two matches for a victory, came back to make it 6-5, with East Lyme coach Laurie Zrenda attempting to will each of Gao's shots to come up a winner.
"They're hard challengers," Secor said of East Lyme. "(Rajamohan and Rahr losing) gives me a little heart palpitation. I try to stay patient and think of the next point, look ahead and stay calm."
Schlink, a pro at Lyme Shores Tennis Center, is a Waterford High School graduate who was ECC singles champion from 2003-05. He went on to play at Springfield College.
He said Potter, who coached the Lancers for 11 seasons, still attends practices and offers Schlink advice.
"One think I implemented this year was a journal system. After each match the girls can reflect on what they did well or what they need to work on. We go over it at practice," Schlink said.
"I love (coaching). It's a blast. It took a little adjusting. With this team, having a lot of sophomores on the team that went to the semis, they want to definitely step up and play a big role. Their expectations are higher."
East Lyme (4-2), meanwhile, lost an ECC Large matchup with Fitch this season and will need to avenge that loss to repeat as league champion. Zrenda said her lineup is more settled now, however, and she was pleased with her team's effort Friday, especially the pair of singles wins. East Lyme lost last year's No. 1, ECC champion Joan Li, to graduation.
"I'm proud of the way (Shi) played tough. I'm happy she was able to stay with it mentally," Zrenda said. "They have enough experience, they should start to feel like, 'I'm a seasoned player now.'"